At first "oblivious" about the future, California High School seniors remained excited for what was to come.
California's class of 2023 graduated on Sunday in the school gynasium. As the seniors waited to be handed their diplomas, the group reflected on their time as students in elementary school, middle school and high school.
"With Graduation here moments away, I, as your principal, assure you that these young people are worth every effort," California High School Principal Jeff West said. "They are prepared, resilient, creative, talented and most of all ready to graduate seniors."
West called commencement speaker Alayna Butts to the stage to address her fellow students and the experiences they've shared. She clarified their journey did not begin four years ago as freshmen, but rather in 2010 when they walked the halls of California Elementary School.
"When we first started elementary school, we were so excited to grow up and become big kids that we didn't realize that those days and those memories would be some of the best of our lives," Butts said. "...days when our adolescent minds were oblivious to the years of stress and responsibility that would follow."
"Then, before we knew it, we were freshmen in high school, excited to join student sections, pick our own classes and join whatever clubs suited us best," Butts continued. "We're excited for the endless possibilities and memories we'd make in just four short years."
However, in March of 2020, Butts said their world turned upside down as the coronavirus pandemic began. Students got used to online school and Zoom calls as they experienced their freshmen year through a screen. Eventually, they returned to California High School but now with a new set of challenges and the personal loss of a fellow classmate.
"Although we were at school we had to learn to adapt," Butts said. "We had to learn to smile through a mask and stay six feet apart, all while still trying to have a semi-normal school year. But that following summer, we're forced to say goodbye to our classmate and friend, Lucas G. Oswald. Lucas would light up any room and had the most contagious smile. And I know he's watching over us, proud of everything we've been able to accomplish these last two years."
Oswald died on July 15, 2021, due to arteriovenous malformation. He is remembered by his friends, family and school.
Butts detailed the experiences that came the following year, including stressful ACT prep, pig dissections and helping build the school agricultural farm. Going into their final year, Butts said seniors had big plans.
"We were focused on our futures, scholarships and rebuilding student sections, and I for one think we did a pretty good job. Senioritis came fast and, before we knew it, we heard our final bell. We were free from any and everything 'high school,'" Butts said. But today is the day our lives begin. Today we become accountable for more than ourselves, our parents and our grades. Today, we become accountable to the world, to the future and all the possibilities it has to offer. Starting today, our job is to show up, willing and ready for everything. Starting today, our lives begin."
"As we all go our separate ways I hope each of you stays true to yourselves, because you make the world a better place. Always remember you are loved and you matter," Butts said. "I wish each of you good luck as we enter the next stages of life. I hope you embrace every opportunity and never take anything for granted. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, 'You're off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.'"
Butts thanked the staff and faculty from the California R-1 School District including teachers, coaches, counselors, school resource officers, custodians and other members of administration for their support.
West recognized members of the California R-1 School Board of Education for their service and commitment to the district including Board President Brandon Dunham, Vice President Allison Kruger, Treasuer Derek VanLoo, Secretary Susie Gorrell and board members David Cook, Tony Haile, Ryan Porter and Jan Trachsel. Dunham accepted the the class as graduates and board members bestowed the 88 seniors with their diplomas.
West called Senior Class President Lauren Friedrich offered closing comments.
"Class of 2023 I want to start by saying congratulations. We've all faced a multitude of challenges the past four years. These challenges come with life, but it's our choice how to overcome them. The scary news is you're on your own now. But the good news is you're on your own now. However, we would not have been in here today without everyone who has helped us along the way. So, we thank you," Friedrich said. "Congratulations and good luck."
Seniors and their guests were treated to two performances from the school during the ceremony. Band Director Jacob Small led California High School's Senior Concert Band's performance of "Sidetracked!" by Matt Conaway and Choir Director Michele Bilyeu led the California Senior Choir's performance "We Won't Stop Dreaming" by Pinkzebra.
West also recognized faculty member and 23 year senior class sponsor Julia Potter for her role in supporting California High School's commencement ceremony. He congratulated Potter on her retirement and said her expertise will be missed.